In early September 2014, star Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was arrested for beating his four-year-old son with a switch. Originally, the Vikings pulled him from the roster for a single game against the Patriots. After more consideration, they placed Peterson on the NFL’s Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List, which means that Peterson won’t be playing until his legal troubles are concluded.
The corporal punishment debate rages on in the mainstream media, but fans who love football and who bet on sports online are more concerned about what’s going to happen to the Vikings’ running game (click here for reviews of sports betting sites to use when you bet on the Vikings). After their loss to the Saints, most sportscasters predicted that the Vikings’ postseason hopes were swirling the bowl. However, their win against the Falcons has optimists betting that the Vikings can run without Peterson after all.
A Shaky Start
The Vikings started the post-Peterson era by running Matt Asiata against the Patriots. After all, Peterson had only run 75 yards on 21 carries in the season opener against the Cardinals, which by Peterson standards wasn’t much. Asiata ran for 35 yards against New England and then for 36 yards against New Orleans. In other words, he didn’t get as many yards in two games as an unremarkable Peterson got in his first.
The Vikings didn’t have much to say about their lackluster performance. Center John Sullivan told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press that the Vikings “have the guys who can do it.” Coach Mike Zimmer, when asked if he was shifting the backfield around, said, “We’re looking at everything. We have to figure out ways to be a little bit more explosive in the running game.” For their game against the Falcons, they couldn’t rely on Asiata alone. Zimmer had to develop a plan to help Minnesota win without Peterson.
A Shift in Strategy
It’s not as though the Vikings haven’t played without Peterson before. Back in 2011, when Peterson tore his ACL, was the last time that the Vikings had two running backs that logged more than 10 carries in a single game. Peterson’s miraculous recovery from that injury — he was back after just nine months — meant that the Vikings didn’t have to miss him for long after the ACL tear.
This time, after the Vikings announced Peterson’s banishment to the Exempt/Commissioner’s Performance list, Zimmer whipped out the double running back strategy again. He combined Asiata with Jerick McKinnon, against the Falcons, and they ran (along with Teddy Bridgewater) 241 yards on 44 attempts. The Vikings won the game 41-28 by doing what a lot of other Peterson-less NFL teams do: depending on two backs to share the workload.
How Asiata and McKinnon Change It Up
Based on their performance in the Falcons game, it looks like Asiata’s strength will be powering through at the goal line. McKinnon, on the other hand, was the guy who racked up the big runs. After his first snap, he took the football for 55 yards. Overall, McKinnon is speedier, better at seizing opportunities, and a competent backfield receiver when he has to be. Asiata is used to forcing his way through the crowd, and he sometimes runs toward the crowd instead of taking the open lanes that are right in front of him.
McKinnon is a rookie from Georgia Southern. In the Falcons game, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry to Asiata’s 3.9 yards per carry, and that’s with his 55-yard opening run removed from the numbers. A lot of fantasy footballers are eyeing McKinnon as a waiver-wire pickup, and his performance, if he keeps it up, could push Asiata out of the starting lineup now that he’s out of Peterson’s shadow.
Mike Zimmer must’ve been relieved to watch McKinnon play on Sunday. He’s no Adrian Peterson yet, but he’s fast and he’s shifty in a way that Asiata isn’t. However, Asiata hit the end zone three times against the Falcons. He gets it done on the shorter plays, and he’s not afraid to face down a phalanx of defenders.
“When you have two different types of backs come in there, it changes your mindset,” Zimmer told reporters after the Falcons game. “It’s not necessarily different plays all of the time — it’s one guy can get to the perimeter faster, one guy can be a little bit more physical.” By putting Asiata and McKinnon together, the Vikings could craft a workable running game again.